Monthly Archives: April 2013

IT Technician’s / Developer’s Guide to Ergonomics, Mice / Input Devices

Every Bit Counts

As I outlined in the first part of this article, every small improvement adds up when it comes to ergonomics. No one improvement is going to make your environment perfect. At this point your hands are probably already damaged so even the smallest repeated agitation can cause problems.

Dual Wielding! Touchpad and Mouse

Dual Wielding! Touchpad and Mouse

 Mice, Touchpads, Tablets, etc.

Find what works for you

More so than with any other category, finding a mousing setup that worked for me was not easy to do. It is with input devices that there seems to be the most diversity in opinions. What’s very comfortable for one person, is actually very uncomfortable for another.

Most common Solutions

Generally, the most common types of ergonomic mousing solutions fit into three categories:

Ergonomic Mice

Touchpads

Graphic Tablets

All of these present their own risks for RSI, regardless of what you’re suffering from now. It’s not uncommon for someone to switch to a new setup, just to find themselves suffering from a new kind of pain six months later. The only consensus that I can seem to find from everyone I talk to is, you’re going to need a few different pointing devices.

Have a few different pointing devices for different tasks

By having a few different kinds of mice, you prevent your body hands from overusing and fatiguing as quickly. Furthermore, different kinds of mice seem to be better for different kinds of work. A graphic tablet you use for work, probably won’t game well, and vice-versa. Spend a little more for wireless mice, and keep them all around so you can quickly jump between them.

What worked for me

I arrived a strange solution to my problem. I find that the Evoluent Vertical Mouse is very comfortable in general. However, it didn’t solve one of my main RSI problems. From years of clicking with my index finger, my index finger is very sensitive to the motion of clicking. Realistically, any clicking with my index finger for any extended period of time causes pain. To alleviate this, I bought a Logitech Wireless T650 Touchpad, figuring it would help alleviate the issue. Well, it turns out, as I properly recalled, I hate Touchpads. Doing anything with them other than two finger scrolling drives me nuts… then by accident I figured out a unique solution to my problem. As you can see in the photo above, I actually use the Touchpad over the left of my keyboard for clicking, and scrolling. I use the mouse for pointing. The combination is actually surprisingly very intuitive. Copying and Pasting is frustrating, this way, so I use the Evoluent for the selecting part. But outside of that, I rarely have a need to use the left click on the mouse itself.  When I’m browsing the internet, and mostly just scrolling through pages, I hold the Touchpad between my hands and scroll with both thumbs.

Scrolling with the Logitech T650 Trackpad, other hand is taking the photo

Scrolling with the Logitech T650 Trackpad, other hand is taking the photo

I’m not recommending this setup to everyone. But for me, it definitely does the trick. Alone, neither of them really alleviated the whole issue, but together I can distribute the load onto two hands, and make working a whole lot less painful.

IT Technician’s / Developer’s Guide to Ergonomics, Hand Braces

Every Bit Counts

As I outlined in the first part of this article, every small improvement adds up when it comes to ergonomics. No one improvement is going to make your environment perfect. At this point your hands are probably already damaged so even the smallest repeated agitation can cause problems.

Hand / Carpal Tunnel Braces

Forces me to maintain good form

Forces me to maintain good form

If I had to choose the single most helpful thing for me in treating symptoms. It would be my hand braces. I can tell how much they help, because on laundry day when I don’t have them, I fatigue much quicker than when I have them. Good quality hand braces immobilise your hands and limits movement to only areas that should move. They surprisingly help with a lot more than wrist pain, as they help to hold your hands in a healthy position.

Now they look a little silly, and people will crack a joke or two. I don’t usually take them off at the office even when I’m not at the computer, and that’s a running joke. But, that said, you get so used to having them on, you forget them at times. I wear them while driving too, because gripping the steering wheel can get uncomfortable after about an hour or two.

Don’t cheap out on hand braces

These things are going to be strapped to your hands every day, for hours. Anything remotely wrong with them is going to slowly amplify until you hate them. If they don’t fit very comfortably, that small agitation will make you want to use them less which is a terrible idea.  I have some cheap braces, and they don’t hold up very well to abuse, $20 seems to be the price difference between garbage and great.

They will start to stink

Oh hell do they stink. Think about all the times you’ve felt your palms being sweaty? Yeah, that’s all going into your hand braces. Get machine washable braces. The good ones let you remove the metal supports, and pop them right into the washing machine with your laundry. Mine say cold wash only, but I’ve had no problems putting them in with my ‘warm’ laundry. I probably should hand wash them, but I figure if I get six less months of life out of them it was worth it not having to hand wash them every week. I’m about to buy two more sets, so that I can wear them just like clothes. This way I’m always wearing a clean pair. I’d really recommend once you find a pair you like, in the right sizing, by a bunch of them, and keep them in your dresser. Change them just like other clothes, they get more abuse than most clothes.

Get Braces with both upper and lower support

Thermoskin Carpal Tunnel Braces with Dorsal Stay

Thermoskin Carpal Tunnel Braces with Dorsal Stay

I have a pair that only covers the bottom half of the brace. I thought it was great, but I always kind of wished it had a top support to keep my hands from curling up on the keyboard. Fortunately, I got my current pair, unknowingly they did indeed have a top support. The difference is remarkable. Furthermore, because the top support doesn’t let my hands curl up in an unnatural way, I can actually adjust my desk so that my fingers are coming out my braces are the perfect straight angle with no bends. You don’t realise how much that centimetre or two makes a difference until you’ve tried both with and without adjusting the desk.

What works for me

IT Technician’s / Developer’s Guide to Ergonomics, Your Desk

Every Bit Counts

As I outlined in the first part of this article, every small improvement adds up when it comes to ergonomics. No one improvement is going to make your environment perfect. At this point your hands are probably already damaged so even the smallest repeated agitation can cause problems.

Desks

Desks make a huge difference. I never realised how much an one inch height difference mattered until I got an adjustable desk. Throughout the day, depending on my fatigue levels one inch can be the difference between pain and comfort. Furthermore, because my hand braces prevent me from bending my fingers inappropriately, being in that sweet spot where everything is ergonomic is a very small window that a non-adjustable desk simply cannot do.

They’re not cheap, but they’re worth it

It me took me way too long to buy an adjustable desk. The price point of around $1000 was a huge turnoff. It wasn’t until someone else called me out on the fact I was being irresponsible with my health that I really realised it was time to make the investment. After doing some casual research, I found out that almost all of the friends I knew in software development we’re already using sit-stand or adjustable height desks. Their employers had already done the math that I failed to, and figured out that the cost of preventing injury is way lower than treating it. Sure, I caught flack for buying a $850 desk from friends and coworkers. But honestly, in retrospect, I’m ashamed I didn’t get one years ago.

Which desk to buy?

From what I’m realising, which desk you buy doesn’t really matter as long as it has an electric motor. If you don’t constantly adjust your desk, you won’t being getting much value out of it. The electric motor makes that easy enough where you don’t think twice about doing it. I opted for a sit-stand desk. Meaning that my desk goes all the way up to my standing height. If you’re going to be shelling out cash for an adjustable desk, the extra couple hundred for a sit-stand is totally worth it. You probably won’t realise until after you stand at a computer how nice it is to have THE OPTION of standing.

Which desk did you buy?

I have the Ergo Depot AD117, which is actually a ConSet Desk. I figured that out when I received the desk. ConSet doesn’t really deal directly with consumers though, so it appears as if they expect you to go through a dealer. The desk itself was made in North Carolina, and is actually quite nice. My only complaint is that the table top didn’t have any pilot holes predrilled to help with mounting. But, I have a feeling that’s because they were concerned about the wood warping as it dries out.

Ergonomic desk lessons learned

1. Buy an anti-fatigue mat.

Anti-fatigue mats are absolutely necessary to make standing for hours comfortable

Anti-fatigue mats are absolutely necessary to make standing for hours comfortable

Standing can actually be more comfortable than sitting sometimes, but your feet will tire quickly until you get an anti-fatigue mat. I bought this one, and I like it.

2. Use painters tape to mark your comfortable sitting and standing positions on the wall. 

Use painter's tap to mark your comfortable sitting and standing positions

Use painter’s tap to mark your comfortable sitting and standing positions

I figured this out pretty quick. Most desks do not come with programmable presets. This is in order to encourage you to adjust throughout the day. I think that’s a noble concept…but I also like to generally know what standing and sitting height is.

3. Your comfortable height changes throughout the day

As a rule of thumb, whenever my hands feel like their crowding on the keyboard, I know it’s time to adjust my desk. Usually throughout the day I’ll move between about an inch on either sides of my tape marks.

4. Ergonomic stuff takes up a lot of space

Ergonomic pads, and extra input devices take up space quick

Ergonomic pads, and extra input devices take up space quick

There is no way my old desk could have fit, all of the nonsense I have now. Between pads, multiple mice, and my small collection of hands braces. Get a desk one size larger than you think you’ll need. It really helps when your desk is deep enough to allow for any combination of tenting or padding that you might need. The picture above doesn’t show my extra mouse, my extra padding or ANY other items I might want to put on my desk. Plan ahead and go a little bigger.

Complete Idiots’ Guide to Mining Litecoin on your Home PC (CPU & GPU)

Introduction

The other day, a friend of mine told me about how he has been playing the Litecoin market for weeks now, and was slowly growing his one Litecoin, into several by just playing on market volatility. I’m not a crypto-currency nut, but this did sound really fun, and low risk. I’m an IT Security Consultant, and cryptography has always interested me. So,  why not convert some of my electric bill into LTC and give it a shot? In the process of mining my single Litecoin, I learned a few lessons that I’ll share with you here.

Why LItecoin? 

I’m sure by now you’ve all heard about Bitcoin. Litecoin is like the silver to Bitcoin’s gold. It’s worth substantially less, but it still has a healthy market surrounding it. Furthermore, because it’s much less popular the barrier to entry is substantially lower. I chose to play with Litecoin because of how highly specialised Bitcoin mining has become. The barrier to entry for Bitcoin is becoming too high for a project like this, Whereas, the Litecoin algorithm ‘scrypt’ is actually built to be somewhat resistant to specialised hardware attacks by FPGAs and ASICS. This means that although GPUs might be more efficient at performing scrypt calculations, they are not orders of magnitude more efficient like with Bitcoin’s algorithm.

Can you make money this way?

I did the math, and based on my rather rough calculations, at the current value of litecoins, and using my ATI Radeon HD 6900, and my AMD Phenom II x6 , the ROI of mining litecoin seems to be about break even. You can look up to see the expected output from your hardware here. That said, I’m still pretty hesitant about the entire process considering that I’ve done my time on a computer repair bench, and I know what excess heat can do to computer hardware over time. To summarise, although for the sake of this experiment, this coin will probably be break even, over the long term I’m sure my thermal compound and GPU fan would suffer over months. But realistically, I’m doing this for entertainment, this isn’t an article about profitable mining, it’s about getting your foot in the door.

Simultaneous CPU and GPU Mining

I’ve decided that I’m going to maximise the equipment in my computer, in order to get to my one Litecoin goal as fast as possible. For this purpose, I’ll use both my GPU, and my hex-core CPU. Simultaneously. During the day while I’m working, I’ll be turning off CPU mining, but at night I’ll be using both at full power.

For gpu mining cgminer seems to be the most popular choice. CPUMiner seems to be the Litecoin preferred CPU miner as the Litecoin wallet natively supports it. I found this attractive as the LItecoin Wallet GUI is pretty nice. The cgminer command line gui is actually very nice as well. There is a windowed GUI available for cgminer, but I found it inferior to its original GUI. Both are clearly pretty mature products that made this process substantially easier.

Pool vs Solo Mining

We have the option of both pool mining and solo mining. At this point pool mining is probably always the wiser choice, per the recommendation of a friend, I jumped on Litebonk.
You’re going to need to create two sets of usernames and passwords. The first one, will be the actual Litecoin pool web account. The second will be individual worker accounts for your miners. This allows you to monitor their individual outputs, and serves as an important security safeguard since these passwords are sent in the clear.

Alright, let’s get started.

Here’s an outline of our gameplan.

1. Download Litecoin Wallet
2. Download CPUMiner and copy to path
3. Choose Pool
4. Sign up with pool
5. Create worker accounts
6. Determine correct server
7. Test Litecoin Miner with settings
8. Adjust cpu priority
9. Do you have a good GPU?
10. Download cgminer
11. Use this batch file or create your own
12. Adjust intensity accordingly
13. Possible errors/issues

1. Download and Run Litecoin Wallet

Run over to Litecoin.org and download Litecoin-Qt from the main page.

Download Litecoin-Qt

Download Litecoin-Qt

Go ahead and open it once it’s installed, and let the block chain start downloading. It’s going to take sometime, so you might as well get it started now.

2. Download CPUMiner and copy to your Litecoin-Qt path.

Typically, litecoin-qt.exe is located at “C:\Program Files (x86)\Litecoin\litecoin-qt.exe”. So we’re going to want to copy the CPUMiner files into “C:\Program Files (x86)\Litecoin\”

The CPUMiner project downloads are located here: http://sourceforge.net/projects/cpuminer/files/

You’ll need to download either the win32 or win64 versions depending on if you have a 32bit or 64bit version of windows. I imagine most if not all of you are on 64bit by now.

Get the appropriate version for your computer

Get the appropriate version for your computer

Once you have the .zip downloaded, open it and extract it to your Litecoin path.

Extract the CPUMiner files to the Litecoin-QT.exe path

Extract the CPUMiner files to the Litecoin-QT.exe path

3. Choose a pool

litecoin-project on GitHub has an excellent comparison of Litecoin Pools. Generally the factors that people balance are size, reward type and fee. Larger pools tend to pay out less Litecoin more frequently. Smaller pools tend to get less blocks, but may a larger percentage to each miner. At the bottom of that article, Reward Types, Difficulty and other factors are explains really well to help you make a decision. I chose LiteBonk because it seems to exist in the middle of the road, and I have a couple friends that already mine there.

4. Create an account with the pool

Not all pools require signup, but I actually prefer a pool with a GUI that let me track stats, etc. Sign up is a pretty routine affair. I would recommend using a randomly generated password. Everything that touches cryptocurrencies are often the target of hacking attempts.

Use a randomly generate password, pools are often hacked.

Use a randomly generate password, pools are often hacked.

5. Create your worker accounts

Your worker accounts will represent unique accounts for each of your miners, for this example you’ll need at least two, one for your GPU Miner, the other for your CPU Miner. Use randomly generated passwords, these passwords are sent in the clear over the internet.

Use randomly generated passwords, these are not secure.

Use randomly generated passwords, these are not secure.

6. Determine the correct server settings

On every pool, there will be a page that contains the server settings for the pool. In our case we’re looking for the “GetWork Protocol” servers. Often times multiple servers will be listed. If the first one or two don’t work, keep trying. I found that with cgminer, it would only work with the alternate server with Litebonk.com. After later research I learned that often times each server is not necessarily created equally, and may or may not have compatibility problems with your client, even if it’s the same pool operator.

GetWork Protocol Servers is what we want

GetWork Protocol Servers is what we want

7. Test Litecoin with your Pool Settings

Open up your Litecoin Wallet, and jump over to the “Mining” tab. At this point you should probably still be downloading the block chain, as evidence by the blue bar moving on the bottom. That blue bar will take some time to complete. Mining while the block chain is catching up, can hurt system performance, although I didn’t have much of a problem.

Fill in the pool information from the pool page

Fill in the pool information from the pool page

Fill in the details using the information you gathered from the pool server page. Under “threads”, you should ideally select the same number of threads as your computer has virtual cores. In my case, I went one lower, because I wanted to keep one core free for actual computer use. Certain processors might do better with very high thread counts, for me personally, I wanted a little more control.

Give it a shot by pressing “Start Mining”. If it works, you’re good to go on the CPUMining front. If not, might want to checkout section 14, Common errors/issues.

8. Adjust CPU Priority (Optional)

If you’re going to let this thing run overnight with you not around, it probably doesn’t matter. But personally, I like to keep mining in check. It might cost me 1 or 2 hashes, but I often run other processes on my computer that I don’t want to suffer.

I set mine to "Low"

I set mine to “Low”

Open up your task manager, and find the minerd.exe process. Right click on it, and go to set priority. I prefer setting it to low, so that the minerd.exe process only uses unused CPU cycles. This means that it will get out of the way if a higher priority application comes along.

9. Do you have a good GPU?

Using the article we posted above, do you have a good GPU? If you have a gaming GPU or something half way decent, you may be able to double your hash output by using your CPU and GPU together. If you do, continue on to the next steps, if not. You’re done. You can skip ahead to either our next series on trading / speculating with Litecoin. Or enjoy your new Cryptomine.

10. Download cgminer

cgminer is being updated pretty frequently, https://github.com/kanoi/cgminer-binaries/ . You can Download, any one of the official binaries, as all of them as of today support Litecoin  I’m using 2.11.3 right now. You’ll want to download the .7z or .zip. The 32 vs 64 bit versions matter much less, as the mining is performed in the GPU vs the CPU.

Download the current binaries

Download the current binaries

11. Use this batch file or create your own

cgminer is a little trickier to get going than cpuminer since there is no gui to run the application for us. But it’s still pretty simple. I run cgminer from a batch file located in the same directly as cgminer. The syntax for running cgminer is as follows:

cgminer –scrypt -o http://serverpath.com:80 -u workerusername -p workerpassword –thread-concurrency 8192 -I 10 -g 1 -w 256

Change the -u and -p values, as well as the server to reflect your mining pool and worker usernames. The other variables in this script are adjustable, but for a novice these default values will work just fine. You can download this as a batch file here. cgminerbatch Just download the .zip, extract the .bat into your cgminer directory, and edit it with notepad to point to the correct path. When you go to save the file. You’ll need to select “Save as”, and then set “Save as type” to “All Files”, before you will be allowed to save the file as a .bat

Select "All Files" from the save as type section, before setting the filename to .bat

Select “All Files” from the save as type section, before setting the filename to .bat

Alernatively, you can make a shortcut directly to the file with all of those variables included. Just right click on your desktop, go to create new shortcut, and use browse to either point it to your batch file. Or, point it to your cgminer.exe. If you point it directly to cgminer.exe, you’ll need to copy and paste the variables that appear after cgminer above. i.e.

–scrypt -o http://serverpath.com:80 -u workerusername -p workerpassword –thread-concurrency 8192 -I 10 -g 1 -w 256

So that the full box looks like C:\folder\name\cgminer.exe –scrypt -o http://serverpath.com:80 -u workerusername -p workerpassword –thread-concurrency 8192 -I 10 -g 1 -w 256

Adjust the variables to match your settings

Adjust the variables to match your settings

Once it opens, cgminer will start to run, with all settings preloaded. It’ll look like this

 

This is cgminer running properly

This is cgminer running properly

12. Adjust your intensity according

The intensity level is more or less how much load you want to put on your GPU.

10 is actually a pretty good middle of the road number, but if you want to set it higher, or lower, that’s your call! Go to your cgminer window, and press “G” for GPU Management

Press G from the main windows for GPU Management

Press G from the main windows for GPU Management

Once that’s up press I, and set a level between 1 and 20. Press enter when you’re ready. You should hear your GPU fan spin up almost instantly as the low increases and it attempts to take heat off the GPU. Prolonged high intensity mining with only stock cooling may cause damage to your GPU.

Pick a number, between 1 and 20

Pick a number, between 1 and 20

13. Common Errors / Issues

The errors, that I ran into while I was building this article focused primarily on some stupid little problems.

Firstly, I kept getting the error: “Rejected Diff 1/0 GPU 0 (target-miss)” This was because, when I was having server pool connection errors, I removed the –scrypt from my file temporarily and forgot it off. If you’re getting that error, you’re not running cgminer with the –scrypt command set.

The other one I ran into involved my cgminer unable to connect to the pool. I got the error:

“Pool 0 slow/down or URL or credentials invalid

Wrong protocol, or problem with the pool”

Turns out, that the primary pool server just didn’t support something with cgminer, but the alternate did. Turns out this is not an uncommon issue, and the typical solution is just to make sure you try all of the pool servers before running to the message boards.

14. Trading/Speculating

I’m currently mining my one Litecoin right now, once I’ m done with that, I’ll post another article on speculating with them! To check on how much Litecoin you’re generating, you’re going to want to look around the pool’s website. Many will estimate your production for you, as well as provide useful metrics like your average production rate (hash rate). With my setup, I’m averaging about .2LTC/day. Which means by the end of this week, I should have my Litecoin ready to go. Your results of course will vary.

.27LTC woo!

.27LTC woo!

Update 2 May 2013: 1.17 LTC Acquired! I’ve deposited it into my wallet. It looks like the LTC market has stabilised a bit, but let’s see if we can make some…coin.

IT Technician’s / Developer’s Guide to Ergonomics, and treating RSI (Part 1)

This is more or less the ergonomic setup that works for me.

This is more or less the ergonomic setup that works for me.

I imagine like many of you reading this, you started with computers young, and at this point your hands and arms probably have a lot of mileage on them.

I mean seriously, let’s do the math.

The average ‘full-travel distance’ of a key press is between 3.5mm and 4mm. Now, the general consensus that I’m reading is that the average office worker types around 6000 keystrokes per day. Honestly, that seems way low for IT, but for the sake of argument let’s use that number. So:

3.5mm x 6000 per day = 21 metres per day

21 metres x 260 days (average US work year) = 5,460m per year

Average age of Network Technicians, Web Developers, Software Devlopers and other IT Professionals is around 36-38. We’ll assume they all started late (23).

5460m x 13 career years = 70,980m. or 71km per average career

That means that JUST in your professional work your fingers have probably traveled over 70km in the last 13 years.

I have to imagine that that’s a rather conservative number, as most of us started very young, use a computer for personal use, type more than that, work more than that, and are pretty much finger marathonists at this point.

The purpose of this exercise is to make clear the lesson that I’m just now learning. EVERY MILLIMETRE COUNTS. If you take nothing away from this article, remember that one lesson. Each change you make on its own will not solve your pain issues, it’s a combination of dozens of different things that will get your environment to the point where your body can seemingly keep up with the abuse. I’m not a doctor, but that’s been my experience.I still have discomfort, but at this point it’s way more tolerable, and doesn’t seem to be getting worse. Hopefully, the next set of articles after this one will cover some healing of the damage already done.

It seems like people’s attention spans for blog articles are only a few paragraphs long, so I’m going to break this into a few different sections. Each covering a set of changes that I had to make, that worked for me.

1. Work Environment (Chair, Desk, Angles, Braces, etc.)

Your Desk

Your Hands (Braces)

Your Chair

2. Input Devices (Keyboards, Mice, Touchpads, Tablets, etc.)

Mousing Devices (Mice, Touchpads, Tablets, Etc.)

3. Better Habits (Keyboard Shortcuts, work habits, phones/tablets, etc.)

4. Strengthening (Exercises, fitness, recovery, etc.)

How much does the average IT Worker Type per year? How far is that?

Alright, let’s do the math.

The average ‘full-travel distance’ of a key press is between 3.5mm and 4mm. Now, the general consensus that I’m reading is that the average office worker types around 6000 keystrokes per day. Honestly, that seems way low for IT, but for the sake of argument let’s use that number. So:

3.5mm x 6000 per day = 21 metres per day

21 metres x 260 days (average US work year) = 5,460m per year

Average age of Network Technicians, Web Developers, Software Devlopers and other IT Professionals is around 36-38. We’ll assume they all started late (23).

5460m x 13 career years = 70,980m. or 71km per average career

That means that JUST in your professional work your fingers have probably traveled over 70km in the last 13 years.

I have to imagine that that’s a rather conservative number, as most of us started very young, use a computer for personal use, type more than that, work more than that, and are pretty much finger marathonists at this point.

So your homemade immersion blender mayonnaise didn’t take?

There’s a bunch of potential reasons why your mayo isn’t cooperating…but…

Your egg is probably colder than your oil!

Eggs are really well insulated, and if you’re like me, you tend to take them out of the fridge right before you need them. Emulsions are very sensitive to temperature differences, and everything needs to come to room temperature before you can emulsify properly. It took me a few occasional mayo failures, until I pinned down the problem when I checked the yoke temperature with an IR thermometer. Sure enough, it was 20 degrees colder than everything else. Including the surrounding egg white.

But, don’t fret! You can save it.

Restart your mayo recipe over, what you’re going to do is make a new, smaller batch of mayo. Once you get the emulsion going instead of adding more oil, you’re going to use your failed batch. But make sure you get everything to the same temperature first! Don’t make the same mistake twice, make sure both the old mayo and new mayo are both room temperature.

I hope that helps someone! I’m so happy I lazed my egg yolk today before I made another cup of white oil.

How to beat your allergies (sinusitis) without a turbinate reduction (surgery)

Firstly, let of course disclaim that I’m not a medical professional. I have no professional medical training, and my advice is probably terrible. That said, it worked for me. The impetus for writing this article is actually because, I have a sinus infection right now. You’re probably wondering why the hell should I listen to this guy if he’s suffering right now? Well, because this is the first one I’ve had one in six months. So long in fact that I forgot some of these lessons that actually have kept them at bay. I hope the lessons that I have learned on this journey can help some other people avoid some of the suffering I went through to learn them, and potentially avoid a few unnecessary surgeries.

Firstly, most of the things I used to gain the upper hand on my allergies, did not require a doctor. But a few did. One of the biggest lessons I learned during this experience is exactly what medical professionals are for. I learned how to be my own advocate and how to best make use of their professional experience. Some allergy sufferers are pretty disdainful of how the medical community handles allergies. I’m strongly of the opinion that ENTs, Doctors and other medical professions work best when you already know what you want. Each human body is very different, and an ENT has 15 minutes of time to understand you. If you understand your own body, you can make maximum use of those 15 minutes.

A little backstory, I’ve had sinus allergies since I was a little kid. I was that snot nosed kid who blew his nose ceaselessly. I had an adenoidectomy and tonsillectomy when I was very young and it helped stop a lot of the most egregious symptoms. That said, the underlying allergy of course, never went anywhere. Most of my swelling and discomfort happens because of my very deviated septum, and turbinates that are prone to swelling. You haven’t already read about your what your sinuses look like, you definitely should. The turbinates or nasal concha are more or less located directly behind your nose. Everyone’s allergies are different, unless you have the same exact problem as me, your results will probably very. That said, what worked for me will probably work for many others

1. Know your enemy

The very first thing you should do, is get an allergy test done. The biggest mistake you can make is to think that you just “have allergies”. You don’t need to go to an ENT for this test, and your GP can order it. You don’t need to take the prick test, it can now be done just as accurately through a blood test. I in fact had my most recent one done at the same time as my annual physical and blood work. Until you know exactly what you’re allergic to, it’s very hard to properly anticipate it. At the end of the day, most of us with chronic sinusitis are in fact just unfortunate enough to be allergic to something quite common. For me, it’s dust mites, I’m really allergic to dust mites. If you’re allergic to certain seasonal plants, google them and find out exactly when they bloom. Be prepared for their season and anticipate them. Many people falsely believe that cigarette smoke is an allergen, it’s actually just exacerbates all allergies regardless of your underlying allergy. If you’re an allergy sufferer, you should not ever be exposed to cigarette smoke. The biggest part of fighting chronic sinusitis is preventing the infection from occurring in the first place.

2. Know your tools

Some of the most effective tools available to you are OTC. I in fact only use one prescription product, and even then only when I know I’m about to get into an environment that I’m going to regret. The trick to over the counter medication is knowing what exactly you’re buying, and what’s in it. Medication marketing is designed to tie a set of symptoms to a magic pill. But in reality all your buying is the two generic ultra cheap products on either sides of it, at twice the price. An example of this is Clariten-D. You can buy psuedophedrine (the D) and loratadine  (Clariten) for a fraction of the price as the combined Clariten-D product. Most of the products that you should have around fit into three categories. Vasoconstrictors, antihistamines, and..other.

1. Antihistamines

Antihistamines work by actually stopping or mitigating the bodies release of histamines. Histamines are the chemical compound your body gives off in the presence of an allergen which cause inflammation. Once your sinuses respond to histamines we’re mostly playing catch up by then, so our goal is to either prevent us from needing them by preventing exposure, or by mitigating their effect by using antihistamines. Regardless, once you already have a sinus infection, antihistamines are more or less ineffective. The sinus infection itself is usually a result of inflammation preventing the natural flow of mucus. There are a few different types of antihistamines, most of which are OTC.

a. First Generation Anti-histamines: Benedryl (diphenhydramine) actually works be depressing your entire body. Using it exclusively would be like keeping only a sledgehammer around. I keep benedryl around but the only time you should use it is if you’re having a really bad reaction. An example would be when someone opened a vacuum bag in front of me. I knew that bad things we’re about to happen, and I also knew that either way I wasn’t getting much more done that day.

b. Second Generation Anti-histamines: Zyrtec (cetirizine) and Clariten (loratadine) both function very similarly, most people swear by one or the other. Personally,  I don’t notice much difference between them. Because these antihistamines are so generalised when taken orally, I honestly never have seen any positive effects from either of them. I have however seen amazing results by delivered nasaly. Astelin (azelatine) is a second generation antihistamine that can be prescribed (make sure you don’t get astepro, yes it’s not as bitter but it’s incredibly expensive compared to the astelin generic). Maybe because my turbinates are where a lot of my problems start, but it’s the only antihistamine that I use regularly

c. Third Generation anti-histamines: Allegra (fexofenadine) is more or less a second gen, with some tweeks. If I do take an oral antihistamine it’s usually fexofenadine.

2. Vasoconstrictors

Vasoconstrictors act by causing your blood vessels to constrict. The idea is that by treating inflammation you can relieve some of what is inhibiting proper mucus flow. Once you’re already showing symptoms is when vasoconstrictors should be used. It’s very important to use them very very soon. As the longer you wait the longer the problem with compound.

a. Oxymetazoline: Commonly known as Afrin. This stuff is addictive. Literally. It’s probably the most effective tool in my toolbox, and I keep it everywhere. It’s incredible fast acting and effective. However, under no circumstances should you use it more than 3 days in a row. It is habit forming, and if you google “afrin addiction” you can read some pretty crazy stories about people becoming dependent. That said, when used preemptively or very early on, it will prevent many reactions from spiraling out of control into infections.

b. Psuedophedrine: Commonly known as sudafed. Lately because of laws that prohibit pharmacies from selling psuedophedrine in front of the counter, many drug companies have started using Phenylephrine. Unfortunately, Phenylephrine is not much more effective than a placebo. You have to go and wait in line at the pharmacy and get the real psuedophedrine if you want any real results. If you’re swelling or pain is further up in your sinues, or you’re dealing with a full on sinus infection. Oxymetazoline is not going to be satisfactory, and you’re going to need a more generalised vasoconstrictor like psuedophedrine. Notice, psuedophedrine is also what they give men suffering from priapism. So if you’re a man beware of that unintended side effect.

3. Steroids

I don’t like steroids. They take a while to build up, and create a dependence that I’m not a fan of. They might work great for you, but for me, they just became an ineffective headache.

Whenever buying any allergy medication, never buy the brand name. These products are almost all non longer patented. In fact many times the same manufacturer makes both the generic and the brand name. Typically the brand name product will provide you half the quantity as twice of the cost. Especially if you’re a chronic sufferer that can really add up.

4. Other

Tylenol and Guaifenesin are helpful to keep around. One for treating sinus pain, the other to thin out thick mucus. By the generic and have them available. Guaifenesin is not nearly as effective in the scheme of things, but if mucus is getting very thick and nasty it’s incredibly helpful to keep around just in case.

3. Know how to use your tools

Alright, at this point you’ve read a bunch of chemicals and you’re probably ready to get to the good stuff. The trick to limiting you sinus infections is three fold. 1. Prevent exposure to allergens 2. Mitigate the effect of that exposure 3. Treat symptoms aggressively and early.

a. Once you know what you’re allergic too, you need to accept that if you’re exposed to it, you’re going to have a problem. I know, it sucks. If you have even the slightest allergy, cigarette smoke will exacerbate it 100 times over. You need to spend as much time as possible allergy proving your house. To mitigate specifically whatever you’re allergic too. Don’t waste money on items that won’t specifically help you with your allergy. For example, allergy proof pillow cases and bed covers aren’t going to help much if you’re allergic to dogwood flowers. But for me, it literally represents the single biggest contribution to my recovery.

b. Anticipate exposures and load up on antihistamines early. Keep a bottle of a nasal antihistamine around at all times. Reacting quickly can mean the difference between 3 days of misery and a little sneezing.

c. Once you’ve been exposed and you can feel or sense swelling in your sinuses, take a vasoconstrictor immediately. Don’t wait until you’re already blowing your nose. By then it’s probably already too late.

Here’s an outline of what worked for me:

1. Bought a vacuum with a HEPA filter, use it to stay on top of dust accumulating

2. Bought an inexpensive HEPA filter from amazon, I run it 24/7, prevents from the dust from floating and settling

3. Bought dust mite proof bed and pillow covers (BY FAR THE BEST PURCHASE I HAVE EVER MADE)

4. Nasal antihistamines and oxymetazoline in my bag at all times, I usually use one of the two once a week, rarely more than once

5. Psuedophedrine 12HR I keep in the medicine cabinet. Psuedophedrine will keep you awake and I try to avoid it whenever possible. But it solves a very key problem. Usually if my turbinates are swollen before bed, and I lay down, they’ll stop flowing properly. By the time I wake up, it’s already too late. The mucus has dried and become infected. Psuedophedrine does a good job of keeping things flowing while I’m sleeping. Which can prevent a small inflammation from getting out of control.

Now, I know many people swear by allergy shots, and surgery. But personally, I try to avoid unnecessary surgery. It takes a lot of prudence and attentiveness to stay on top of symptoms. But now that I know what to watch for, I’m very rarely suffering. I’d like to quote a friend of mine, who responded to my question “How was the turbinate reduction surgery?”, his reply was “I’ve been shot, I’d rather be shot again than go through another turbinate reduction”. I hear a lot of people have easy surgeries, but this opinion convinced me to exhaust other options first.

Duolingo.com, Where have you been my whole life?

 

Main Screen Duolingo

Duolingo’s Product is clean, elegant and incredibly useful

Let me start by saying, I’ve self taught myself at least four languages. Arguably, I think that makes me a pretty good authority on the topic of language autodidacting. Furthermore, I actually did my undergraduate education in the Spanish Language…so I’ve done my fair share of Spanish teaching. That said, Duolingo.com is so quality, that it actually makes me wish I was born later so that I could have taken advantage of it at 15. You’ll learn more in the bathroom than you learned in 3 years of high school Spanish.

There have always been a few language learning applications on the market, but in my opinion none of them seem to have ever really understood how to capture the student’s interest. Language learning has to be fun, and has to provide instant gratification for the user. For me, I used music, and translated lyrics until I understood what was going on. Applications like Rosetta Stone never did that for me. In fact, I’ve always found it easier to actually break a language apart and reassemble it, then have Rosetta Stone try to force feed me pictures of horses and women swimming.

 

My child is lovely? Uhh sure.

My child is lovely? Uhh sure.

Then came Duolingo. With a tiny staff and rather small amount of VC they’ve created a product leaps and bounds more effective than Rosetta Stone…and it’s fun. The social component creates a healthily competitive environment. It’s similar to having a language learning gym buddy to keep you motivated. The software is very well written, almost entirely bug free, and very elegantly designed. But more than that, it actually works. I have up until now been very pessimistic when people have suggested to me they wanted to learn another language. I’ve seen many try, and almost everyone fail. The barrier to entry to a new language has always been so high, until Duolingo.com came along.

I can now effectively hit on women, in French.

Tu es une femme parfaite!

That said, it’s definitely not without it’s uncomfortable moments. I can with some authority now say that I can call your daughter round, and that your wife is perfect. At some times I felt like I was in fact learning how to hit on women in French, and then was awarded a trophy for my hard work. That said, I was able to do so both at my desktop, which is much more comfortable and allows the user to press enter after every lesson. Or awkwardly on public transport from my iPhone, which after some time did start start to get a little uncomfortable on my hands.. and strange looks. This does lead to my one gripe with the product, for some reason out of nowhere the voice recognition will stop detecting…mostly anything. This has on multiple occasions led to me repeating awkward phrases like “My elephant is eating some good wine” in French over and over again on the train. I don’t think the pronunciation software actually detects anything as of now, but that probably honestly doesn’t matter, as in reality just trying to pronounce words helps. I can attest to this, as I am very good at talking about my pet éléphant.

Jumping between the Desktop and Mobile versions is seamless.

Jumping between the Desktop and Mobile versions is seamless.

Moving between the Desktop and Mobile versions is really seamless, anything short of mid-lessons seems to sync instantly. A frustrating component is that it does seem to randomly add new lessons to skills, ostensibly in order to help re-freshen these basic skills. But in reality it’s just annoying. As anyone who has played a well designed video games knows, you don’t want to redo the early game quests later on, you want new quests. The algorithm really should build these early lessons in to the later lessons to help you compound your knowledge. Making you go back and relearn old material is just frustrating and creates a perceived “uphill battle”. That said…these are some pretty minor complaints. Duolingo is fantastic, and I’m actively pushing it to everyone I know who has always been interested in learning another language. Then…prodding them by actively watching their progress :-D.

Finally, I know there is a translation/immersion section, which is aiming to translate large quantities of the internet. From what I understand that is actually a core component of the ‘vision’ of duolingo.com, to translate the internet. Honestly, I don’t quite understand what’s going on there, and I’m actually really hoping that they monetize the product and get the resources necessary to expand into a number of harder to find languages. I know as a matter of fact how big the Language learning industry, and how bad language schools need a commercial version of Duolingo that allows them to closely monitor student progress. There is nothing wrong with making money, and I’m hoping that Duolingo builds a commercial product sooner rather than later so that I can get some Russian and Vietnamese lessons.

Need a Dedicated IP on Hostgator Reseller Hosting? You’re going to need to get SSL.

It was actually refreshing to determine it was this easy to get a dedicated IP from Hostgator. I contacted Hostgator because I wanted to move our main domain to a separate IP address than the ones that most of our clients are hosted on. I figured it might help prevent google from thinking we’re running a linkfarm or something unsavory.  I have to imagine this can’t be an unusual situation, since many different Web Design and IT Companies have to be hosting a lot of websites in the same IP batch as their main website. But regardless, I figured it’s better to be safe than sorry. Last thing I want is for another site on our IP batch to be compromised, and Google to incorrectly identify a company selling IT Security Consulting services as compromised itself.

I received a quick reply back from Hostgator who pointed me to the two sites, which have slightly conflicting info. The second one is correct.

http://support.hostgator.com/articles/hosting-guide/hosting-plan-comparison/dedicated-ips-ip-address

https://secure.hostgator.com/resellerip.php

To summarise, more or less Hostgator has extra IPs, and they used to just sell them for an extra fee. However, now they have to justify their IP usage to ARIN, and the only use that their accepting is SSL certificates.

We elected to have a SSL certificate installed on our domain, after the cost of the certificate, and the Dedicated IP fee, it came out to something like an extra $7/month. Which I think is totally reasonable. So if you’re using Hostgator and you’d like to have each of your cPanels on  different dedicated IPs, order SSL certificates for each of them, and swallow the extra $7/month…or if you can justify it, move to a VPS or Dedicated Server. Personally, I’m of the opinion that SSL is a no brainer for most sites anyway, and Hostgator’s Certificates through comodo are pretty competitively priced.